Midwest Distance Gala (IL)
Highlights - Distance runners from over 15 states congregated at Benedictine University Saturday evening in Lisle, Illinois to take part in the fourth annual Midwest Distance Gala. Each year this event has grown leaps and bounds and this year was no exception. With a new facility, and a new Olympic-level track for athletes to compete on, this year's edition was set up to be truly outstanding.
The best performance of the evening came in the last event of the night, the boys mile. Coming into Saturday's competition, Minnesota's Rob Finnerty (Burnsville, MN) (pictured right by Tom Rizzo) was looking to break the state mile record in Minnesota of 4:05. With a rabbit set up to take Finnerty through half way on pace to run 4:04, Finnerty could relax a bit more after leading every race he'd run all season long.
"I was really hoping to relax and let someone else do the work," Finnerty said, "I've done all the work all year and I thought if someone could help for at least a part of the race I could really make a charge at the record."
From the gun Finnerty jumped right on pace, following the rabbit through the first 400m (plus 9 meters) in 61.65, then coming through the half in 2:02.51. With the rabbit dropping out, Finnerty and in-state rival Jordan Carlson (Rosemount, MN) pulled away from the field and continued to push the pace. Coming down the homestretch Finnerty pulled away from Carlson by about a second, running a 60.03.
Into the gun lap Finnerty went, driving his arms but still looking smooth. With 300 meters to go the crowd all jumped to their feet, knowing full well that what Finnerty was doing was something truly special. Into the final 200 meters he came, driving as hard as he could, keeping his eyes focused. At the 100 meter to go mark Finnerty glanced up at the scoreboard.
"I knew from 400m to go that I had the state record, but with 100m to go I looked up and saw that I had a shot to run under four minutes," said the Wisconsin-bound senior, "the crowd was cheering so loud that it really helped me in the final 100."
As Finnerty came towards the finish the crowd noise was deafening, hoping that their cheers could push him that little extra bit towards breaking four minutes in the mile. With the final lean Finnerty crossed in an exceptional time of 4:01.09, becoming the seventh fastest prep miler ever. "Coming into the meet breaking four minutes was an afterthought. This is definitely exciting," Finnerty said while doing a victory lap.
While Finnerty's race stole the show, numerous other performances stood out as well. Perhaps the most surprising victory of the night came from junior Tommy Brinn (Otsego, MI) (pictured left by Tom Rizzo) in the boys 800m dash. With such notable veteran two-lappers as Andrew Perkins (Watertown, WI) and Mat Smoody (Palatine, IL), Brinn was overlooked by nearly everyone. However, after a conservative first lap, Brinn moved to the outside in perfect position and shifted into the lead with 100m to go, racing like a veteran, despite being his first major challenge this season.
Brinn crossed the line first in a new personal best of 1:51.07, while Smoody finished second after getting boxed in early in 1:51.73 and Perkins finished third in 1:52.14. "I wanted to see what I could do against these guys and I was hoping I could get my time down to get the best seed possible for Nike Nationals next weekend," said Brinn.
Juniors dominated the boys two-mile as well, which saw Foot Locker finalist Bobby Nicolls (Regis, CO) (pictured right by Tom Rizzo) take home the title with a 2:09.85 last 200m, finishing in a meet record time of 9:03.04. From the gun Nicolls, Bobby Aprill (Dexter, MI) and junior Graham Bazell (Atholoton, MD) led the field, looking strong through the half way mark of 4:34.
Moving from there, Aprill started to push the pace until Nicolls jumped to the lead with 700m to go. Nicolls really made his strong move and never looked back, showing the strength he has earned all season long at altitude. While Nicolls crossed the line first, Bazell kicked nicely down the home-stretch to beat out Aprill for second 9:04.55-9:07.36. Nicolls time ranks him as the top junior two-miler in the country this season, while Bazell's mark ranks him as the U.S. #3 junior.
On the girls side, Emily Sisson (Millard North, NE) and Ashley Verplank (Bloomington, IL) dominated their respective races. Sisson cruised to victory, leading the entire way in the girls two-mile, taking home the victory in 10:38.68. Verplank raced in similar fashion, cruising in for a comfortable win of 4:57.30 in the girls mile. The best female performance of the night however came in the 800m dash, where Jami Hill (Onalaska, WI) dominated a deep field with a new personal best mark of 2:09.14, also breaking the meet record set by Verplank last year. Hill's final 400m was a strong 63.39.